A strawberry and mushroom risotto for Kelly

Before you run off, let me tell you that even though it sounds weird this might actually be the best risotto I’ve not only ever made, but ever had.

Got your attention?  Good, let’s proceed.

It came about because an old friend and housemate, who now lives back in the US, sent me a message last week:

How can one resist such a direct challenge?  Savoury strawberries? and not only that, cooked savoury strawberries, oh dear.  But then, I will very happily eat strawberries with any kind of cheese or with pepper and balsamic vinegar, so why the hell not.  Right off the bat I knew the thing here was going to be to get the texture of the strawberries right while also having the rice taste strawberry-y.

Risotto is one of those things that, once you know how it goes, you don’t need a recipe for.  The (very) basic recipe is onion, garlic, arborio/other short grained rice, cup-o wine/some alcohol, stock – stir – parmesan/cheese.

Anyway, here it is – I’ll chatter about how and why I did things throughout.

A strawberry and mushroom risotto for Kelly – serves 3 or 4

Note – You should alway read a recipe all the way through, but look, we’ve all gone “eh, I’ll just wing it” and it’s been fine at one time or another.  This recipe you have to read all the way through because it requires some steeping time which is not a thing you want to learn at 8:30 when you’re starving.  That is tantrum territory.

250 g (one punnet) strawberries
125 mls/½ cup dry vermouth
40(ish) mls gin
250 g Mushrooms – I used portobellos, which are mature Swiss browns
1 clove garlic
1 onion
chicken stock – I use Massel cubes which are the best and also actually entirely vegetarian
200 g/1 cup arborio rice – I know that doesn’t seem like much but remember that it quadruples in size as it cooks
30g butter – yes, it seems like a lot. Yes, you have to use it all
olive oil
parmesan to taste – 30-40 g

Cut half the strawberries (≈125 g)  into quarters and put them and the vermouth in some kind of vessel with a lid and whack it in the fridge.  Twiddle your thumbs.

Steeping strawberries in a very fitting vessel

Mine actually steeped for more than 24 hours because I put them in to steep then went out and didn’t come home until late so I didn’t get around to making the recipe until the next day.  You don’t have to steep them for that long, probably 4-6 hours would be sufficient.  We’re steeping the fruit to flavour the booze with strawberry goodness.  Most of the recipes for strawberry risotto that I had a look at call for white wine or sparkling wine (and don’t steep the fruit) which would work perfectly well here, I just happen to prefer vermouth in risotto and I usually have some in the house whereas I would have to get white wine in specially, and then the unfinished bottle would sit in the fridge until it turns into vinegar.  I don’t like white wine.

When steeped, strain the liquid into a measuring jug, set the steeped strawberries aside.  Pour the gin into the strawberry vermouth, you want enough so that you have about 150 mls / 2/3 cup total alcohol.

Yowza, look at that colour! The strawberry steeped liquor

Put about a litre and a half of water on to boil and throw 2-3 stock cubes in – I used 3 and the instructions for these ones are 1 cube per 500 mls so that’s exactly right.  You could definitely use fresh chicken or vegetable stock but I wouldn’t use veal/beef or any other strongly flavoured stock as it would overwhelm the delicate strawberry flavour.  Let this come to the boil as you’re doing your prep, when it boils pop it on a low temperature and just let it simmer.  At this stage do all your cutting prep before you start cooking  because you need to be stirring most of the time and trying to chop and stir is a pain in the arse.

Finely dice the onion and finely mince the garlic.  Dice the alcohol soaked strawberries quite small.  These guys will disintegrate during the cooking.

Dice the boozy strawberries quite small

Quarter the remaining Strawberries.  Cut the mushrooms into thick slices.  Set the mushrooms and quartered strawberries aside.  Grate the cheese.

Thickly sliced mushrooms. Well, thickish anyway.

In a large, heavy based pot melt 2/3 – 3/4 of the butter and add a little olive oil, just for flavour.  When melted, add the onion and cook over a moderate flame until translucent – the onion shouldn’t be browning and the butter should remain yellowish, we’re not aiming for nut brown or burnt butter.  Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more.  Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is translucent – 3-4 minutes.  Add the boozy strawberries along with the vermouth and gin and stir until the liquid is absorbed.

Using a ladle, put a little stock into the rice pot and continue to stir as the liquid absorbs.  This stops the rice sticking to the bottom of the pot and also gives the dish its creamy texture by loosening the starch from the outside of the rice grains.  You may have to adjust the temperature here, you want the liquid to absorb fairly rapidly but not be bubbling vigorously or have any chance of it suddenly boiling dry.

Continue to add stock a ladleful at a time, stirring gently but constantly, until the rice is cooked.  You want the grains to be separate from each other, slightly al dente and not mushy.  Generally when making risotto, there should be enough liquid that there can be a little movement if you wriggle the pot but not so much that it’s soupy – I tend to like my risotto a little drier than that, but each to their own.

Turn off the flame, add the cheese and desired amount of pepper and stir through.  Put the lid on and let rest for ten minutes.

You have ten minutes to: melt the remaining butter in a frying pan over a fairly high heat, cook the mushrooms in the butter – you want to brown the mushrooms a little bit and not overcook them, they should have a little bounce when you bite them.  Pop the mushrooms in a bowl or put them in the pot with the risotto, being careful not to pour all the butter out with them.  Return the frying pan to a high flame and very quickly (one minute max) caramelise the remaining strawberries.  Chop the basil.

Stir through the mushrooms, strawberries and basil.  EAT.